The Greenland sled dog is a fantastic and charismatic animal. It is strong and full of character and extremely adaptable. One day it is holding a furious polar bear at bay on an ice flow, the next it is pulling a heavy sled full of tourists or meat and fish for the household - and will continue to do so for hour after hour. And on another day the sled dog is running at maximum capacity, fully concentrated on the goal of winning the annual dogsled race.
We practically take it for granted that there will always be sled dogs in this country. But alarm bells have started to ring. In the newspapers, we read every winter about the problems that sled dogs are experiencing: The number of dogs is declining. The sea ice is retreating. Dog food is becoming more expensive. And snowmobiles are replacing dogsleds as the means of transport for hunting and fishing. While the sled dog is a proud and vibrant symbol of Greenlandic culture, the challenges are legion, and many people have doubts about the future. What can we do to keep the dogs alive together with the unique culture they pull with them?
On that background, a group of researchers and disseminators from Greenland and Denmark assembled in 2015 to develop an interdisciplinary project about the origins, cultural history and health of the sled dog. We were all captivated by the dog and started talking about how old the breed is. Where did it come from? Is it genetically mixed with wolves? How can one dog fulfill so many and so specialized functions? How can it physically handle such extensive hardship? How is it raised? The answers to these questions merely led to new questions and the notion that modern science could help answer them.